“They all lived and laughed—just like us”

News Article / November 27, 2018

Click on the photo under “Image Gallery” to see more photos.

By Emily He

During this year’s Remembrance Day service, students and staff of Lisgar Collegiate Institute, a high school in Ottawa, paid special tribute to Pilot Officer Lewis Johnstone Burpee, a 1937 graduate of Lisgar. He was the pilot of a Lancaster bomber that was shot down during the famous Dambusters Raid of May 16-17, 1943. His son, Lewis Burpee, Junior, and Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger, commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, were special guests at the ceremony.

Emily He is a student at Lisgar; here is the speech she delivered during the ceremony.

This November 11th is very special. It marks the 100th year anniversary of the end of the First World War—the War to end all wars. One hundred years ago, all the nations involved in the First World War agreed to stop fighting after Germany’s formal surrender. One hundred years ago, peace was finally on the horizon after four excruciatingly long years of fighting.This peace meant that our soldiers would no longer have to march across No Man’s Land into a shower of bullets to defeat the enemy, and they would never have to feel their lungs blistering and burning from mustard gas again. There would be no more heart-wrenching sights of their comrades—their friends—lying on stretchers, with limp arms and dead eyes.The suffering that our soldiers endured was incomprehensibly great. But living in this country of peace makes it difficult to even imagine their pain and even more challenging to relate to their experiences. These heroes, who protected their nations by sacrificing their lives, seem so distant, so different.

But they were all real, tangible people who lived lives just like ours.Some of the soldiers were Lisgarites—students and teachers who gave up their lives to defend Canada. They set foot in the very same hallways that all of us walk through each and every day, and they lived ordinary lives before the outbreak of the war. Students woke up before dawn to attend sports practices, ate lunch on Elgin Street with their friends, and studied diligently for tests and exams while teachers stayed late after school to facilitate clubs and answer students’ questions. They all lived and laughed—just like us.But as the First World War broke out in Europe, Lisgarites’ lives started to change, and the 1914 literary magazine named the Vox Lycei documented many of those changes. At first, the differences were subtle; the magazine included more advertisements from the Royal Military College and the Cadet Corps. However, as the Great War progressed, the Vox Lycei increasingly focused on matters of war by including more literary works about the Allied forces’ heroic acts and Canadian soldiers’ courage. A Service List that contained the names of all Lisgar staff and students who left for the front also emerged.

But the most drastic change to the magazine’s editorial content was the Roll of Honour. For the first time in Lisgar’s history, the Vox Lycei opened with a list that documented the names, dates of deaths, and battalion numbers of fallen Lisgarites. Imagine opening your yearbook with trembling fingers, scanning through that list of names and tearfully realizing that a fellow classmate’s laughter will never be heard again.

All of the pain that shook Canada was experienced again in World War Two. However, before the Second World War broke out, there was a sense of peace, and the Vox Lycei documented this atmosphere yet again. In 1937, just two years before the start of the Second World War, the Vox featured photos of friends laughing with each other on the grass, sports team members grinning ear to ear with big, shiny trophies, and students studying with books piled high all around them. It was a peaceful year, a normal year, with ordinary events happening despite tensions arising in Europe.This year, 1937, was also the year that a specific young man named Lewis Johnstone Burpee graduated from Lisgar Collegiate Institute. Near the end of that school year, Burpee and his friends signed each other’s yearbooks to preserve all of the precious memories that they had experienced together. In fact, the grandfather of one of our student presidents has Lewis Burpee’s signature on the back of his 1937 yearbook.But after the peace of the mid- to late-1930s ended, and the war erupted on the European front, Lewis Burpee enlisted in the Second World War. He valiantly sacrificed his life during battle, and from that moment on, he was never heard from again. His voice would no longer flow through Lisgar’s hallways, and no one would ever feel the warmth of his laughter or the light from his smile ever again.

Now, one of the only tangible things that Burpee’s friends had left of him was his signature at the back of their 1937 yearbooks. That very signature encapsulated his personality and the memories with his friends.Pilot Officer Burpee, who fought and sacrificed his life for all of us, is just one example of the many brave soldiers who have fought for our peace and freedom. They took on the responsibility of protecting this nation, and the debt that all of us owe to our soldiers and veterans is unimaginably great; we will never be able to fully repay their heroism. But what we must do is honour them. We must remember that it was their sacrifices that have led our country to where it is today and, most of all, we must remember that the freedom that all of us enjoy came at an extremely high cost.Simply reflecting upon our soldiers’ and veterans’ sacrifices on Remembrance Day is not enough. Remember them as you stand for the national anthem each morning. Remember them whenever you see a Canadian flag. And remember them as you walk through [Lisgar’s] Memorial Hall and look at the many names engraved onto those brass plates. Never forget their sacrifices—immortalize them in your heart. Thank you.  


Join the RCAF - Dare to be extraordinary

Communication Electronics Engineering Officers provide telecommunications and information management services that support Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) operations in Canada and abroad.
         - Provide telecommunications and information management services
         - Operate and maintain tactical Air Force and strategic communications systems
         - Manage air traffic control and electronics systems
         - Advise on the planning and acquisition of ground based surveillance, communications and information technology systems
         - Oversee surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence communications systems
         - Administer data, information, and knowledge management systems
         - Be involved with the full spectrum of terrestrial radio and satellite communications from HF to EHF radar and navigation systems, electronic warfare, cryptography, electronic intelligence, or communications and network security


Date modified: